Man released on $1 bail while awaiting trial in wife's death

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

A York County man is out of jail — free for the first time in seven years — while he faces a second trial on accusations he killed his wife and staged her death to look like an ATV accident.

Joseph Fitzpatrick III, 49, was released from the York County Prison on Monday by a Pennsylvania Superior Court order.

That order upheld York County Common Pleas Senior Judge Richard Renn’s decisions in June to grant Fitzpatrick bail of a nominal $1. Conditions also included requiring Fitzpatrick to live with his parents in Fawn Grove, wearing a GPS monitoring device and limiting travel to within the county.

Joseph Fitzpatrick III

“I’m ecstatic we were able to get Joe out of prison on bail," said Christopher Ferro, Fitzpatrick’s attorney. "We are now focused on preparing for the upcoming trial and confident this matter will end with an acquittal of all charges.”

The York County District Attorney’s Office may seek to appeal the decision.

“We are in the process of evaluating our appellate options,” DA's office spokesman Kyle King said.

Fitzpatrick is charged with counts of first- and third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter ahead of the retrial in his case.

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Investigators allege he killed his wife, Annemarie Fitzpatrick, 43, by drowning her in Muddy Creek near their property in Chanceford Township in June 2012. He’s also accused of staging the scene in a way that appeared Annemarie rolled her ATV and accidentally fell into the creek.

A jury initially found Fitzpatrick guilty of murder in May 2015, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Ferro quickly challenged the conviction and appealed to Renn. The judge agreed with arguments that the prosecution’s evidence failed to prove an unlawful death occurred, and he overturned the conviction with a judgment of acquittal that September.

Fitzpatrick was released from custody briefly, but then went back to jail as the DA’s office challenged the decision. The case remained on hold for nearly two years until the Superior Court tossed Renn’s acquittal and reinstated the trial conviction in April 2017. The life prison sentence was also reimposed.

More appeals followed until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Fitzpatrick’s conviction again in July 2021 and ordered a new trial for him.

Justices decided a note written by Annemarie — reading, “If something happens to me- Joe.” — and email were evidence that prejudiced the jury during Fitzpatrick’s trial.

Annemarie Fitzpatrick

The note was hearsay, they said, and the key piece that persuaded the jury to its verdict while the other evidence was circumstantial, including a medical uncertainty on whether or not the death was homicide.

Evidence also included a $1.7 million life insurance policy Fitzpatrick had on his wife, that he was involved in a non-sexual affair with another woman, and inconsistent statements given to police. But the Supreme Court’s decision found that evidence on its own to show motive didn’t overwhelmingly establish guilt, and that there was a lack of evidence to show Annemarie unlawfully died.

Since the decision, and as work began to prepare for the new trial, the case went back to court on May 24 as Ferro argued to have Fitzpatrick released on bail. The prosecution sought to keep him in custody and submitted an expert medical examiner’s report as additional evidence to bolster assertions that the manner of the victim’s death was unlawful.

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In his ruling in June, however, Judge Renn found the report still didn’t help prosecutors meet their burden on the manner of death.

He decided Fitzpatrick was eligible for bail and granted it on the basis that he’ll have a place to live, a history of residing in Pennsylvania, a work record, and no prior criminal record as an adult. Renn also noted in his ruling that when Fitzpatrick was released from jail in 2015, and then ordered back into custody, he returned to authorities voluntarily.

The nominal $1 bail was decided because the case wasn’t brought to trial within 120 days of the Supreme Court’s decision, and postponements weren’t sought in between, according to the ruling.

A pre-trial hearing is now scheduled for Aug. 15 as a next step in the case, court records show.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.